Why Document Learning? Lessons from Kindergarten Classrooms

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Children work with squeezersI was struck by the value of documenting learning while listening to teachers at the Open Studio at Wheelock’s Documentation Studio on May 16.  One teacher captured a moment in time; kindergarten children playing with water and “squeezers” led to a rich conversation among educators who were not present in that classroom.

The photos and the children’s dialogue brought us right to that moment.  We could point to the children’s words as they tried to explain how water is sprayed out of the squeezer.  Teachers wondered about the scientific concepts that were being explored and if children could grasp how pumps work. If children were concrete thinkers, what other materials could be provided to help them understand pressure?

Student campfireChildren created a campground in another kindergarten classroom. The rich vocabulary and language that grew from the campground was documented with photos and animal stories the children created both individually and in groups.  Why were the children interested in camping? How many had ever been camping?  The bright glowing red and orange paper campfire in the middle of the campsite was a perfect place to tell stories.  We wondered if others would realize the richness of this dramatic play that inspired reading numerous children’s books and telling stories.

Another teacher is an advocate for play and exploration in kindergarten.  In January, her students became fascinated with skateboards.  Who would ever guess that this fascination would extend to the end of the school year?

Skateboard drawingAfter learning the basic moves on a skateboard, this led to the creation of a skateboard village—complete with small, child-written books  about skateboarding (available at the skateboard repair shop) and a movie theater that featured movies about skateboarding.  The teacher created a video documenting the process of children’s self-directed play and learning.  She learned that her role was to observe, provide materials, encourage and offer the time to create.  We wondered at the Open Studio how interesting it would be to have administrators watch this video and check off the numerous standards that were evident in this child-oriented, project-based learning experience.

Why document learning? We can see the learning, discuss ways to extend the learning (i.e., materials, questions, provocations), share documentation with the children to help them create new ideas, and to inform families and administrators as to the power of play, exploration and group learning.

Stephanie Cox Suarez is an associate professor in Wheelock College’s Special and Elementary Education Department. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in special education assessment, children with special needs, instructional methods seminars, and “making learning visible” documentation courses. Stephanie was a special education teacher for 15 years in public schools and at Perkins School for the Blind. Before coming to Wheelock, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she helped prepare teachers of the visually impaired and worked with the Ministry of Education and non-governmental organizations to initiate a national special education program.

She is the founder of the Documentation Studio at Wheelock College, where research includes working with preservice and in-service teachers to document, share, and make visible classroom learning and teaching. Visit the Documentation Studio web pages for more information and for upcoming Open Studios for educators.

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